Christmas in a prison, photo: CTK

From Russia, with love: the Czech who wants a civilian airliner for Christmas, and has gone all the way to Russia for it. Prostitutes celebrate Christmas as well! And, "Christmas behind bars" - some Czech prisoners are already baking Christmas cookies! Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

People from six towns in Western Bohemia raised their voices in song this Wednesday in an afternoon of "simultaneous carol singing" across the region. People gather on their town's main square at a given time and sing the same repertoire - warmed by the fact that at that very moment thousands of others across the region are singing the very same song. The West Bohemian region started this tradition 6 years ago and it has become increasingly popular. There has been no test yet to ascertain how far the sound of carols travels when a whole region sings together - but at the rate the squares are filling up I am sure it won't be long before we hear them here in Prague.

The biggest advent wreath in the Czech Republic can be seen in the town of Miroslav in Znojmo. The wreath decorates the main square and measures almost seven metres in diameter. It took the townspeople a week to make and they used up a load of straw and four carloads of fir-tree branches, not to mention 250 meters of electric Xmas lights. The town has issued Xmas cards of the wreath to send to family and friends.

On the other hand Chomutov has the biggest advent calendar made of wood. Carved by local craftsmen it is 2 metres high and 37 metres long with 24 brightly lit windows. The "surprises" behind the shutters were made by school children. The idea to produce a giant advent calendar emerged last year within a joint Xmas project between the towns of Chomutov and Annaberg-Bucholz in Saxony. Back then the project was financed by the European Union and cost 10.000 euros. This year, the town of Chomutov managed to put it together for half the price.

Meanwhile, Brno prides itself on a wood carved nativity scene with 38 life-sized figures which is still in the process of being completed. Every year new figures will appear - until all sixty of them are in place. When the weather is not too cold, visitors can see the new figures in the process of being carved on the square itself. Unlike many other nativity scenes made in this country this one does not contain any local animals and flora but only such as are typical for Bethlehem. There's an elephant weighing a ton, and the horses of two of the three kings - named Hurricane and Typhoon -were made from giant trees which a real hurricane uprooted. Every piece is unique and when the nativity scene is finally completed - in 14 years time - it should be a true masterpiece.

Some people know exactly what they want for Xmas - and because the chances are they are not going to get it from family and friends - they get it for themselves. Karel Tarantik is one of them. He is a collector of airplanes - and what he wants to see under this year's Xmas tree is a civilian airliner - a 40 metre Russian made Iljusin 18. Crazy as it sounds, Tarantik will see his dream come true- having bought the gift for himself. The old airliner served for years as a restaurant in Sec -a Russian tourist resort- and its owners were happy to sell it when it no longer met hygiene norms. So Tarantik bought it for the price of scrap metal. It took him thirty trips to Sec and the Xmas gift was transported to the Czech Republic in bits and pieces - 7 big lorries in all. Karel Tarantik has his work cut out for him in the coming months - putting the airliner back together piece by piece, bolt by bolt. He has around sixty planes in his collection - but this one is the biggest beauty - or so he says.

One of the Czech Xmas customs is to cut an apple in half -crosswise - and look at the shape that the pips form - if they form a star that is considered a sign that you will be healthy and happy in the coming year. On the other hand a cross means trouble ahead. If you are a little tired of this game - decorate your table with some special apples this year - with fruit bearing a message to those you love. Slovak farmers have started producing apples for special occasions and selling them abroad. They wrap the apple in foil while it is ripening and by blocking the sun's rays for some time they produce a message in contrasting colour - Merry Xmas, Happy New Year or Happy Valentine's Day. The only problem is you have to order them in advance - the Slovak farm in Cachtice produce only some 7,000 of them a year and they will be happy to put whatever message you want on the apple - presuming it is not too complicated. Better than a box of chocolates - and much healthier!

Preparations for Xmas are underway everywhere -even where you would least expect them. Czech prison houses will soften their regime to give prisoners a treat. Common-rooms are decorated for the holiday and on Xmas eve prisoners can look forward to the traditional Xmas dish - fried carp and salad. The hours during which they are allowed to watch television are also extended during the Xmas holidays and there are numerous competitions and sports events which they can partake in. The most popular are table tennis, darts and football. And, of course, most prisoners get big Xmas parcels from home - so they'll be getting their share of Xmas cookies. Besides - believe it or not some prisoners actually bake gingerbread Xmas cookies in the prison canteen.

Likewise, prostitutes from nightclubs along the notorious E-55 highway want a bit of Xmas cheer - especially since most of them are not going to get the day off. Their Xmas preparations involve buying a new dress for the occasion, a trip to the hairdressers and then to their favourite sex shop - to pick up a few presents for their clients. "We always have a few presents and some surprises in store for them on Xmas day, an oriental dance or something out of the ordinary that they can look forward to" one prostitute said, "but they too bring gifts for us - usually perfume, jewellery and expensive underwear". So -since Xmas is very much a family holiday - how come prostitutes have so many clients on that special night of the year? One of them explains that they only start arriving after nine or ten in the evening, after they've partaken in the Xmas celebrations at home. So if your husband suddenly feels the need for a breath of fresh air at ten o'clock on Xmas night - I suggest you try an Oriental belly dance, even if it is definitely not a Czech Xmas custom.